12 year old Rusty and his single father Tom, a bartender, have a relationship built on acceptance and trust. Tom works long hours in his bar and Rusty has a pretty solitary existence on his own. All that changes in the summer of 1960 when Zoe, the new cafe owner's daughter, and Rusty become instant and profound friends. But Zoe's not the only one who comes into Rusty's life that summer. Also making an appearance is Proxy, an unsavory friend from Tom's past who makes the claim that Tom is the father of her daughter. Ivan Doig's The Bartender's Tale is a teenage boy's coming of age tale where life is not black and white.